Friday, January 29, 2021

The Best Of 2011-2020

It’s been a decade since I started keeping lists of all the cool experiences that occurred that year, selected the top ten, ranked them, and picked the best of that year’s best.  I thought I would follow the same process for this first “Best of the Decade” list, but I found myself not wanting to rank these, so the list below is simply in chronological order.  I wasn’t too surprised to find that most of this top ten list consist of the yearly number one experiences, however, 2015 and 2017 do not have any, while 2016 and 2020 each have two.

I also found that I wanted to combine some individual experiences and not pick a single item out of an entire vacation, as the collective made them extra special.  Finally, while most of what is written below use the exact verbiage found in the previous blogs, some are new, as I didn’t start writing entire paragraphs until the fourth year, and some are rewritten as needed to tell the tale of a phenomenal decade.  So I’ll jump back to 2011 and start reminiscing.


Oktoberfest in Munich (2011)

The flight to Germany included a longer-than-appreciated stop at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, followed by a ride from the Munich airport whereupon departing the train we were greeted by rain and trying to get our bearings to find the hotel.  But after napping for a couple of hours, a walk, dinner, and a full night’s sleep, we were ready to experience our first Oktoberfest.  We took the train to the Theresienwiese station, followed the crowd up the escalator, and were astonished to find ourselves already inside Oktoberfest, sort of like when Dorothy opened the door and she saw the multi-colored Oz for the first time.  It’s really like a huge county fair with food, rides, and entertainment, and the famous beer-drinking is strictly limited to inside one of the many “tents”, which hold up to 10,000 people, so each is more like a small village.  To order a beer you must be seated at a table and Elaine’s job was to find a party that would allow us to join them, which she was excellent at doing.  Beer is served in one liter (aka “Maß”) mugs and it never took more than a couple minutes to get a refill, as the waitresses moved with German precision.  There was plenty of traditional music, but about every hour the band would play Sweet Caroline or Take Me Home Country Roads and the entire crowd sang along.  We repeated our first visit, on Tuesday, with a repeat on Thursday, taking a day’s break to walk around downtown and visit the famous Munich Hofbrauhaus.  


Chef George (2012)

Aruba is one of our favorite Caribbean destinations.  It’s always hot, windy, and dry, the beaches are gorgeous and the restaurants are a collection of Caribbean, Latin American, and Dutch.  Our favorite restaurant was The Flying Fishbone, where our group ate at tables directly on the beach.  But our favorite meal was from Chef George, the sous chef from the nearby Marriott Resort and Casino.  The ladies thought it would be nice to celebrate their sister’s birthday by hiring a private chef to prepare a meal in our condo.  Chef George and his girlfriend came over for a planning session and an elaborate menu including fish, risotto, salad, asparagus, avocado with shrimp, and garlic bread.  A birthday cake was secretly added later.  For our party of nine, we expected quite a price tag, and when it turned to that point the men figured that would be the end of it.  Chef George wrote, tallied, and gave us the number.  About $330 total.  I had to immediately turn away and mouth “Oh my God!”.  We couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.  Two nights later Chef George and his girlfriend prepared one of the most awesome dinners I have ever tasted.  We all dressed up, drank champagne, then wine, ate as much as we could, then sang “Happy Birthday” and ate cake.  What a night!


Cirque Du Soleil “O”  (2013)

During one of my occasional business trips to Las Vegas, my IBM rep asked if I would like to go to the Cirque Du Soleil show at the Bellagio.  Since I had heard they were excellent, I said yes, not knowing what it was all about.  The show was named “O”, which is a homonym for “Eau”, the French word for water.   What I was treated to was spectacular, a high-flying and underwater production of diving, synchronized swimming, and aerial acrobatics in and over a 1.5-million gallon pool of water.  It was equally stunning and terrifying. The performance ended with high divers plunging 60 feet to a small exposed section of the pool, where a single small mistake could be a disaster.  I’ve never jumped from that high a distance, but the impact has to be thunderous.  This remains one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.


Ireland Vacation (2014)

Ireland is a beautiful country and I took a week’s vacation with my wife and her sons, all of Irish descent, to The Emerald Isle at the end of June, where the sun rises around 5:00 am and sets around 10:00 pm, making for a lot of daylight.  Aside from a week of perilous driving from the front right seat, on the left side of the road, with a stick shift in my left hand with the only-thing-familiar, left-to-right shift pattern and navigating clockwise roundabouts, here are the top four highlights from a great week.

The Guinness Storehouse tour was interesting and it was capped by learning how to pour a perfect Guinness, tilting the glass at a 45-degree angle while pulling the tap forward, letting it settle for 119.5 seconds (yeah, it's a joke), then topping it off while pushing the tap backward.  Tullamore D.E.W. is my wife’s favorite Irish Whiskey and learning their history and the distilling process was fascinating.  We also learned that “D.E.W”, not Dew as we all thought, stands for Daniel Edmund Williams, who worked for nearly sixty years at the distillery.  Departing from Galway City, we took a 45-minute bus ride and a 45-minute ferry ride to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.  Everything on the islands is lined with rock walls, busted out of the ground to provide land for food and housing.  Most impressive were the cliffs, with no barriers to keep you safe, and braving wicked high winds to take memorable pictures. The final day in Ireland was spent traveling to Doolin, a small seaside town near the Cliffs of Moher.  The cliffs were awesome, albeit on a foggy day, but having dinner and listening to real Irish music at McGann’s, a small local tavern, was even better.  


Flying a Helicopter (2016)

My daughter bought me a gift certificate to Cloud 9 Living and my selection was taking a helicopter lesson which included a half-hour ride and some solo piloting, of course, with a certified instructor (Matt) that monitored everything and could take over in a split second. After about forty-five minutes introducing how helicopters function, the purpose of the overhead and tail blades, how to control motion horizontally and vertically, and plenty of safety training, Matt pulled the small, two-seater out of the hanger and towed it to a take-off pad. After performing a thorough outside review and then the inside pre-flight checklist, Matt fired up the engines and we waited while the engines came up to operating speed. We checked over our right shoulder to make sure all was clear and Matt lifted off and moved over to the runway. In what I can only describe as a “Superman Moment”, Matt gunned it forward, then banked right as we climbed. No fear, just the rush of flight as the ground fell away. It was probably the coolest feeling I’ve ever experienced. Once up to our flying altitude and positioned over a highway to follow, I got to fly for about ten minutes, following one highway, then another. After we began our way back to the Batavia airport, Matt demonstrated how a helicopter can glide down without engine power. Disengaging the motor, the helicopter began a gentle, and eerily quiet, descent towards an open field. Matt explained that in an actual emergency landing he would get close to the ground with the helicopter pitched forward, then pull back to stop the forward motion a few feet off the ground. In the final second you’re a rock, but hopefully an alive rock. Re-engaging power, we continued back to the airport, and suddenly we pitched right, then pitched left, the scariest moment (for me) of the flight. Matt pointed to a couple of birds that had passed by and emphasized the importance of avoiding them. Now back at the airport, we hovered over an open field and Matt had me practice trying to hold the helicopter in place about 20-30 feet above the ground. This is much harder than it would appear, and the 10-15 mph wind made it an even greater challenge for this first-timer. Finally, Matt took over, moved us back across the runway to the pad, and landed as light as a feather. The guy is good!


The Ohio State University vs Michigan Football Game (2016)

My son bought season tickets for the OSU football games and offered me the chance to go to the traditional, regular-season-ending rivalry game versus Michigan at “The Shoe” in Columbus. Little did I know in August that OSU would be ranked #2, Michigan #3 and the game would likely decide which team would make the four-team College Football Playoffs. We made it to Columbus by 8:00 am for plenty of pre-game tailgating before the noon kickoff, enjoying several hot Fireball Apple Ciders to stay warm, listening to music at the outdoor HineyGate, and well-positioned on the main way as Urban Meyer and the team made its way to the stadium. We were part of the record crowd of 110,045 fans as Ohio State took an early 7-3 lead, only to give up two touchdowns to fall behind 17-7 and not looking sharp. But the defense stepped up their game and a late third-quarter touchdown left them trailing 17-14 entering the final quarter. A missed chip-shot field goal, Durbin’s second of the day, with seven minutes to go left the crowd stunned. But a three-and-out gave OSU one more chance from their own 18 with 5 ½ minutes on the clock. They made it an even deeper hole following a 6-yard sack on the first play of the drive. OSU got traction at that point, JT Barrett and crew passing and running down to the field before sputtering in the final two minutes and lining up for a potential tying field goal, another chip shot that had the crowd praying and hiding their faces, waiting for either the thunderous explosion of enjoyment or the bitter quiet of defeat. The explosion was heard and we headed to overtime, the first ever since overtime started in 1996. OSU got the ball first, at the opposite side of the stadium we were sitting, and took only two plays, the first by Samuel and the touchdown by Barnett to take their first lead since the first quarter. Michigan responded with a fourth-and-goal 5-yard touchdown pass. They switched ends of the field, now directly in front of us, and Michigan got the ball first in the second overtime. The Buckeyes limited them to a field goal on another three-and-out stop. With Michigan leading by three, Ohio State made a first down on fourth-and-one on a controversial spot by the referees, but I saw it and it was the proper spot! On the final play, Samuel sprinted around the left end for the game-winning touchdown and a 30-27 victory! The place went nuts and tens of thousands of fans stormed the field in joyous celebration! An instant classic!


Cameron Indoor Stadium (2018)

When something comes off your Bucket List, it’s no surprise it becomes the highlight of the year.

I’ve been a Duke basketball fan since the early 1990s and have wanted to see a game at Cameron Indoor for many years, so when my friend and local resident Bob invited me down to see Duke play Princeton in December, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Cameron is a unique stadium, seating only 9,300 without a bad seat in the house, and looks from the outside a building that could be a church. This year’s Duke team features the most talented group of freshmen in the country, headlined by the high-flying Zion Williamson and super-smooth RJ Barrett, and complemented by floor general Tre Jones and sharpshooter Cam Reddish. After a slow start, Duke blew out Princeton by the lopsided score of 101-50.  The dream has come true.


Celebrity Edge Cruise (2019)

The Edge was the newest addition to the Celebrity cruise line and we enjoyed a week aboard one of its first sailings, staying in an Infinite Veranda stateroom.  Abroad we saw three shows in the Theater, usually starting and ending at The Martini Bar where the bartenders would pour a line of fifteen martinis in a single pour from sixteen interconnected cocktail shakers. The food was very good, but the highlights were the hot dogs and french fries at the Mast Grill.

Our excursion in San Juan was The Food and Culture Tour, and Stephanie guided us through historic districts explaining their significance, while the food portion included island coffee, meat, and cheese sandwiches on a buttered croissant at Cuatro Sombras, plantain with butter and garlic, that we mashed ourselves, served with a side of rice and beans, and a Mojito, at Cafe El Punto, and flan at Vaca Brava.  In Tortola, we took the “Tour to Virgin Gorda Baths” excursion.  A small, open-air bus took us to Devil’s Bay, where we got into the water for a short time, and then we walked paths, ducked under huge rocks overhangs, turned sideways to slink through narrow openings, and navigated the many slippery spots. Arriving at Back Bay, we spent 45 minutes in the water bobbing up and down and being shoved around by the warm waves.  Our favorite tour was America’s Cup Sailing Regatta in Saint Maarten, which pitted two sailboats, manned by us landlubbers against each other in a race.  Our boat, the American “Stars and Stripes” was led by Captain Morgan of Jamaica and his crew of two. My job was being the “back grinder”, where during our into-the-wind changes between port tacking and starboard tacking, I would reel in one of the ropes supporting the main mast’s large sail.  While our boat lost the competition by two lengths, it was an absolute blast sailing in the most perfectly clear blue-green water imaginable.


February in St. Augustine Beach, FL (2020)

Our first attempt at being “snowbirds” was spent in St. Augustine Beach, Florida, where we rented a two-bedroom, oceanside condo for the month of February.  The weather was a mixture of nice warmer days, lots of mostly seasonal days somewhere in the sixties, and a few on the chillier side.  We took a relaxing four days to drive there, visiting friends outside Atlanta one night and not driving too much on any given day.  Adjusting to the smaller confines of the condo, finding the best places to shop, and generally being outside our comfort zone took three days to overcome.  We enjoyed numerous trips into St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, taking tours, visiting shops, going to church, and eating at one great restaurant after another.  We hosted family and by the end could recite the history of the city as well as the tour guides.  The trip home included a night in Charleston, SC, dinner at Husk, and an over-the-top brunch with friends at Jasmine Porch on Kiawah Island.  The final leg, Charlotte to home, was the longest at seven hours, but we were happy to be back in the comfort of our home, not knowing yet that February would be the last normal month of 2020.  The timing was perfect.


Griffin Patrick Dougherty (2020)

I know all grandparents think their grandchildren are the cutest on the planet, but we have lots of pictures to prove that our first grandchild, Griffin, truly deserves that title.  He was born three weeks early, on May 13th, after a difficult pregnancy, which was undoubtedly made even more difficult due to coronavirus restrictions on if and when daddy Pat was allowed to accompany mommy Emma to medical appointments and some really scary trips to the emergency room.  Imagine all the jitters that come with a first child, then amplify that with having to sit in your car waiting to be told what you can and cannot do.  After many weeks of praying to get him a few weeks closer to full term, that beautiful baby boy arrived and jumped right into our hearts.  Since daddy, like many daddies around the world, worked from home most of the summer and fall, he had the unexpected opportunity to fully participate and watch Griffin as he gained weight, outgrew outfits, found his hands, kicked his legs, rolled over, and best of all, developed that cutest smile. 


Friday, January 1, 2021

The Best of 2020

2020 was a different kind of year, to put it kindly.  The coronavirus threw us off our normal game from mid-March and pre-Christmas December had both of us, fortunately at different times, on the couch fighting off the virus’s fever, chills, and congestion.  Like most people, we did a lot of home improvements this year and got a lot of “I’ll clean that out someday” projects off our list.  But it was also a year that featured our most beach time ever, great food, lots of sightseeing, and best of all, some exciting times for our children.  I’ve whittled down the list of forty-six experiences I captured throughout the year, and as I’ve done now for ten years running, picked and sorted the best ten to remind myself, now and in future years, that 2020 was a great year in my life.  Here we go. 

10. Laurie and Rodney Move to Charlotte, NC

It might seem strange to think that your daughter moving seven hours away (from 1.5 hours) would make this list, but I’m happy when she’s happy.  They bought a beautiful home outside of Charlotte where the average January temperature is 51 degrees.  It’s directly on the way to a few of our favorite places, including Hilton Head Island, Charleston, SC, and the east coast of Florida.  We also discovered this year that we can Facetime each other whenever we want.  Not that we didn’t know it before, but we never did it and it took the pandemic to realize that we can regularly chat.  

9.  Wine & Dine Roadster Tour in St. Augustine, FL

The most fun tour we took in St. Augustine was the Wine & Dine Roadster Tour.  Our driver Corley navigated the roadster, carrying ourselves and two other couples through lesser-known streets, introducing us to interesting nuggets of the cities’ deep history.  Along the way, we stopped at five places for food and drink, including the Old City House Inn & Restaurant, Carrera Wine Cellar, The Floridian, Athena Restaurant, and Peace Pie, indulging in tasty plates and yummy drinks, in all more than a meal’s worth.  The tour was interesting, intimate, and an awesome way to feel part of the local scene.

8.  A Great Crop of Tomatoes

After years of sacrificing our backyard tomatoes to squirrels, I finally invented a solution that would completely enclose the plants yet make it fairly easy to inspect and pick the ripe red fruits.  The solution was “stackable cages”, two per plant, each about a two-foot cube.  The lower cube did not have a wire mesh top, the top cube did.  I made each of the four sides out of 2”x2” lumber, then stapled wire mesh sides to them.  This made the cubes reasonably light enough so I could lift the top cube off, pick the ripened tomatoes, and put the top back on.  We harvested, from just two plants, many dozen delicious Better Boy and Beefsteak tomatoes.  After the season was over, I took this first version of the cages to the dump, looking to invent a new-and-improved version in 2021 that will be even easier to use and provide more room so the tomato plants can grow larger.  

7.  Frankie Bones in Hilton Head 

Staying with our friends Dan and Grace for a week, we ate and drank at several wonderful places, but the only one we requested a repeat performance was Frankie Bones.  The restaurant was the complete package, with their service, food, and drinks all being top-notch.  The decor was so visually compelling, portraying a 1960s “Rat Pack” theme complete with period furniture, outfits, and pictures.  Both the Lobster Mac-n-Cheese and Shrimp Scampi were delicious, but that left a couple dozen equally tasty-looking selections to explore on future visits.

6.  Ball State MAC Champions and First Bowl Game Since 2013

The Ball State football program was one of the first to cancel their season due to the coronavirus.  But after other programs, like the Big Ten, decided to reverse their decisions and play, Ball State changed course also, beginning a shortened, six-game, division-only schedule on November 4th.  Following an initial loss at Miami, Ohio, Ball State went on to win their final five games, making them the MAC-West champs and earning them their first trip to the MAC Championship game since 2008, a revenge match against the MAC-East champs Buffalo Bulls.  Ball State triumphed, 38–28, to become the MAC Champions for the first time since 1996.  They accepted an invitation to play the San Jose State Spartans, the Mountain West champions, in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve.  Ball State started strong, scoring 27 points in the first quarter, and went on to win the game 34-13 for the football team’s first-ever bowl game victory.  

5.  BlockBuster Fitness Equipment

While everyone was impacted by the government-ordered lockdowns that largely failed to halt the coronavirus spread in any obvious way, my son’s personal training business was closed for several months, lumped into the category of “gym”, which it’s not.  While that was a complete loss of income, to both himself and his employees and contractors, fortunately, he had started a second business, BlockBuster Fitness Equipment, a couple of years ago that buys out large quantities of treadmills, ellipticals, weights, etc., which he refurbishes and resells.  Since lots of people wanted to keep up their workouts, demand was very healthy and this business took off.  2020 will end up being his best year so far.

4.  Like Brand-New Fireplace

The last piece of the living room that needed upgrading was the fireplace, its large gray stones looking more outdated as, over the last ten years, the flooring was upgraded, the walls painted, and literally everything else replaced.  We first considered having it ripped out and a new one installed but decided to first try to cover it using white, chalk paint.  That achieved a stunning makeover!  We then sprayed the brass doors with high-temperature black paint, replaced the screens, and completed the project by painting the stone hearth with a hammered white paint.  We continued this unplanned project, replacing the couch, loveseat, chair, and ottoman with much-needed upgrades, then added new paintings, accent paint, area rug, and curtains.  Best of all, for the first time in my life, I have an awesome La-Z-Boy rocker/recliner.    

3.  Lots of Pool and Golf

The summer of 2020 was hot, dry, and full of sunshine, and thankfully when it became apparent that flu season is never a big summertime concern, the pool at Walnut Grove Country Club was allowed to open, with capacity, distancing, and other restrictions like everywhere else.  We enjoyed many hours of basking in the sun, getting our best suntans ever, and cooling off when the kids had to exit the pool for fifteen minutes every hour.  We also took much advantage of the golf course, playing lots of nine-hole rounds, with a golf cart, and each consuming about a half-gallon of water to keep hydrated.  Being out on the golf course, often feeling that we were the only people there, and enjoying the scenery made the world feel normal for a couple of hours.  One change we hope they keep is everyone had to make a tee time every day and time of the week, instead of the previous requirement being only during the peek Saturday and Sunday morning/early afternoon.  Took any concern about how long it might take to get started, we could just show up on time and go immediately.

2.  February in St. Augustine Beach, FL

Our first attempt at being “snowbirds” was spent in St. Augustine Beach, Florida, where we rented a two-bedroom, oceanside condo for the month of February.  The weather was a mixture of nice warmer days, lots of mostly seasonal days somewhere in the sixties, and a few on the chillier side.  We took a relaxing four days to drive there, visiting friends outside Atlanta one night and not driving too much on any given day.  Adjusting to the smaller confines of the condo, finding the best places to shop, and generally being outside our comfort zone took three days to overcome.  We enjoyed numerous trips into St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, taking tours, visiting shops, going to church, and eating at one great restaurant after another.  We hosted family and by the end could recite the history of the city as well as the tour guides.  The trip home included a night in Charleston, SC, dinner at Husk, and an over-the-top brunch with friends at Jasmine Porch on Kiawah Island.  The final leg, Charlotte to home, was the longest at seven hours, but we were happy to be back in the comfort of our home, not knowing yet that February would be the last normal month of 2020.  The timing was perfect.

1.  Griffin Patrick Dougherty

I know all grandparents think their grandchildren are the cutest on the planet, but we have lots of pictures to prove that our first grandchild, Griffin, truly deserves that title.  He was born three weeks early, on May 13th, after a difficult pregnancy, which was undoubtedly made even more difficult due to coronavirus restrictions on if and when daddy Pat was allowed to accompany mommy Emma to medical appointments and some really scary trips to the emergency room.  Imagine all the jitters that come with a first child, then amplify that with having to sit in your car waiting to be told what you can and cannot do.  After many weeks of praying to get him a few weeks closer to full term, that beautiful baby boy arrived and jumped right into our hearts.  Since daddy, like many daddies around the world, worked from home most of the summer and fall, he had the unexpected opportunity to fully participate and watch Griffin as he gained weight, outgrew outfits, found his hands, kicked his legs, rolled over, and best of all, developed that cutest smile.   

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Best of 2019

This is the ninth in my “Best of the Year” series, dedicated to reflecting on the best experiences of the year. Thirty-six items made this year’s list, about an average number, and as usual it takes some time to decide what makes the top ten and even more time to force rank them to select the best of the best.

Without further ado, here’s 2019’s recap.

10. Tour to Virgin Gorda Baths

Our excursion while docked in Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, started with a 45-minute catamaran ride to the northeast island of Virgin Gorda for the start of the “Tour to Virgin Gorda Baths”. A small, open air bus, driving on the always-disturbing left side of the road, started the scenic adventure, taking us to a parking lot for a short walk to Devil’s Bay, where we got into the water for a short time. From Devil’s Bay, we walked paths, through openings between huge rocks while trying to keep our footing in the many slippery spots. We had to duck under rock overhangs and turn sideways several times to get through some very narrow openings before arriving at Back Bay. There we spent 45 minutes in the water bobbing up and down and being shoved around by the warm waves, chatting with folks from our’s and other tours. The trip back to the bus took a much easier, albeit less scenic route, finishing with a return catamaran ride to the cruise ship.

9. NCAA Tournament Games In Jacksonville

The culmination of our 15-day cruise/Florida vacation was attending the first and second round NCAA basketball tournament games in Jacksonville. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Downtown on the St. Johns River, about a fifteen minute walk to VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. When you make plans months in advance, you don’t know which teams you’ll watch, but we’re college basketball fans and there is no better way to get psyched for March Madness than attending the games in person. Seton Hall, Yale, Abilene Christian and Belmont lost their first round games on Thursday, but a couple of them went down to the wire. In Saturday’s second round Kentucky beat a surprisingly scrappy Wofford team by six and LSU downed Maryland by a single bucket.

8. San Juan Food and Culture Tour

Our excursion while docked in San Juan was a food and culture tour, with Stephanie as our guide. She walked us through historic districts explaining their significance, which included a block with a hundred pink umbrellas hanging overhead, a tradition that started after hurricane Maria and its horrific destruction. The food portion included island coffee, meat and cheese sandwiches on a buttered croissant at Cuatro Sombras, plantain with butter and garlic, that we mashed ourselves, served with a side of rice and beans, and a Mojito, at Cafe El Punto, and a flan at Vaca Brava.

7. Lunch at Mango Mangos

We hope to spend a winter month in Florida in 2020, so as we traveled from Fort Lauderdale after leaving the cruise ship and heading north along the east coast, we checked out a few possible areas and it ended up being an easy decision: Saint Augustine Beach. It’s not a spring break destination, not having many hotels, and the main road, A1A Beach Blvd, has minimal thru-traffic, as it’s only useful to access this coastal area. The final selling point was a little Caribbean & American bar/grill a block from the beach named Mango Mangos. We ate a late lunch there both days and their fish tacos are the best. We tried a couple other places, but this is the one we’ll go back to time and again.

6. New Deck, Doors and Roman Shades

The wooden deck was falling apart, the French doors were worn and leaky, and the screen covering doors never worked as well as we wanted. The deck was replaced with two-tone TimberTech composite decking and black railing with lighted caps. The doors were upgraded with a unique venting style that have screens in the bottom and glass that’s raised when fresh air is wanted. To afford more privacy, roman shades were installed over the doors and can be lowered to whatever length desired. While the deck was only extended five feet, the extra space came in very handy for our yearly party, allowing all the food and beverages to be put there, freeing up more space on the patio for guests.

5. Kinzeler Newsletter

Friends of ours own a realty company and wanted to restart a program of mailing quarterly, six-page newsletters to clients and prospects. They had previously purchased a fairly generic newsletter but wanted something better, and I was excited to volunteer my time to design and write its content. We decided what each page would cover, focusing on useful and interesting content covering our community, time and money-savings tips for homeowners, local history, a seasonal article and information on buying and selling homes. Besides satisfying my love of writing, I learned so much as I researched topics to write about. This is a great retirement gig!

4. Digital Filing Projects

Shortly after the beginning of the year and several months into retirement, my previous employer asked if I would be interested in writing an application to save customer purchase orders that arrive in emails to a local share drive, eliminating their need to acquire more filing cabinets. As I had written a similar application before retiring for damage claims documentation, I knew this would be a fun and learning experience. After that one was completed, I was asked to write an application to store invoices after annotating (i.e. stamping) them with vendor, budget and approval information. While the cost of extra filing space was the initial driver, these applications save on paper and printing costs, lost productivity walking back and forth to the printer/scanner, and the time it takes to file invoices and retrieving copies for audits and other business purposes. Besides picking up a little extra spending money for retirement activities, I really love learning and watching an application come to life.

3. Celebrity Edge Cruise

The Edge was the newest addition to the Celebrity cruise line and we enjoyed a week aboard one of its first sailings, leaving out of Fort Lauderdale with three ports of call in the Eastern Caribbean. We had sunny, hot weather all but one day, and we made a lot of use of the running track that spanned two floors and the abundance of deck chairs, never having a problem getting enough for our gang. The Edge featured new staterooms with their Infinite Veranda design that allows the room to go all the way to the edge, merging the balcony with the room. We saw three shows in the Theater, comedian Rondell Sheridan, The Ravons playing rock and roll and Marcus Terell & The Serenades performing Motown delights. The Martini Bar was the highlight of the party scene, spanning three decks, with multi-story, music-synchronized LED lights and bartenders filling a line of fifteen martinis in a single pour from sixteen interconnected cocktail shakers. It seemed like everyone on the ship came out to see the Edge sailing into San Juan Bay, on the north side of Puerto Rico, with its colorful, historic buildings. And if that wasn’t enough, the hot dogs at the Mast Grill were awesome.

2. America’s Cup Sailing Regatta

The final port of call on the cruise was Sint Maarten and we docked at the capital city of Philipsburg on the Dutch-owned, southern side of the island. We boarded a small catamaran for the short trip out to the sailboats where we learned we would be active participants in a racing competition. The crew, headed by Captain Morgan of Jamaica, divided us into two groups, with my wife and I being assigned to the American “Stars and Stripes”, the others to the “Canadian” yacht. My job was being the “back grinder”, where during our into-the-wind changes between port tacking and starboard tacking , I inserted a metal crank in either the port or starboard winch, turned it counter-clockwise until it gave a lot of resistance, then back clockwise many turns to complete the operation. It was about 30 seconds of intense upper body exercise each time, leaving me sweating and breathing hard. A minute or two later the boat would change tack and I was at it again. Fortunately I caught a break during the downwind runs, getting a chance to drink some water and recover. While our boat lost the competition by two lengths, it was an absolute blast sailing in the most perfectly clear blue-green water imaginable.

1. Half-Day Private Catamaran Ride

We traveled to Turks and Caicos in June to celebrate my wife’s youngest sister’s upcoming 60th birthday, staying at the Ocean Club at Grace Bay. It was a great week in the sun and at the Cabana Bar, but the highlight of the trip, and 2019, was a half-day private catamaran ride. Our group loaded onboard at 1:30 pm and the boat visited several islands traveling over beautiful blue-green waters. We had a demonstration of how to remove a conch from its shell and I snapped an up-close picture of a dolphin breaking the water while chasing our boat. But the best experience took me back to my youth. After we headed back towards the Ocean Club, we anchored for a half-hour where we were invited to jump off the boat from its upper balcony or take a curved slide down and get dumped only a few feet. You didn’t have to ask me twice! I was up that ladder in no time and leaped into the water, feeling that long ago, but still familiar rush as you pick up speed before smacking the water. I was a kid again, if only for a few jumps!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Permanent Out-Of-Office Message

I retired on August 24, 2018, and while I tried to inform everyone I could that my work email address would be defunct, I knew a few contact and mailing lists would not get updated, so an out-of-office message would be a polite reminder.  I thought about crafting a short and sweet message, but my fingers wanted to take this last opportunity to make a joke, look at the opportunities ahead and reflect a little on how fortunate I was to pick I.T. as a career and even more fortunate to have been part of teams with really great people.  I was a lot of work and a lot of fun.

If you sent me an email after that day, this is what you have received back.  But if you didn’t...

----

I've run away and joined a circus...

Just kidding.

After working since I was 11 years old in one job or another, I've retired.

I've traded in my alarm clock for adventures, my calendar for a second cup of coffee and morning commutes for morning exercises.  While this work journey ends with the declaration of retirement, the next journey begins, one that offers the most precious thing in life other than love, that being time.  Time to read, write, golf, explore, create, mentor, listen, give, appreciate and deeply inhale the fragrance of the roses.

I really have loved working, mainly because of the people I've come to know and what we've accomplished together.  Information Technology was a great career choice, and one that ended up being just as much a creative outlet as a technical challenge. And one that I don't have to stop because I'm retired.  That wasn't true in 1974 when I entered Wright State University, in the era of mainframes, but personal computers, the Internet, web sites, mobile devices and open source software hadn't been invented yet.  I can dabble to my heart's content.

Don't bother replying, I'll never get it.  This out-of-office message is permanent.

Signing off ...

Paul













Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Best of 2018


This is the eighth of my “Best of the Year” series, dedicated to remembering and appreciating all the great experiences and memories the year holds, but before I get to those, I want to acknowledge the loss of several of our dear loved ones, as Marge, Dorothy and Toey passed from this world and into the loving arms of God. It was a difficult year for them in their suffering and for us in our grieving, but we’re comforted that they have been reunited with their loved ones that passed before them.

As is custom, I start this year’s countdown with the tenth best experience and work to the best of the best. What you don’t see are the other thirty-two that didn’t make the cut, but contributed to making this another fun year. Without further ado, here’s 2018.

10. Cocoa Beach

The lone vacation of the year was a January trip to Orlando, and unlike the past two year’s winter trips to an unusually cold Florida, this time we were treated to five days of sunshine and mid-80’s. We had left one day open in our schedule and we used it to take a trip over to Cocoa Beach on the east coast to soak up some rays, walk the sand and listen to surf. We found a tiki bar at the end of long pier and sipped a few frozen concoctions while we relaxed in the way only a day like this can bring.

9. The Loft Theatre

One of the hidden gems I was introduced to this year is the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton, and with its capacity of just 212, there is truly no bad seat in the house. We watched a performance of the comedy “An Act Of God”, with Sara Mackie playing the title role and two fellow actors playing archangels Michael and Gabriel. The funniest joke I remember is the answer to the age-old riddle, “which came first, the chicken or the egg”. That answer is “neither, the rooster came first”.

8. Penguins Game in Columbus

While good tickets to a Penguins game in Pittsburgh cost a pretty penny, tickets in Columbus cost half as much, and it’s way closer to home, so we decided to visit “enemy” territory for a hockey game in February. Hockey games tend to be low-scoring affairs, but the action is non-stop and there’s typically a shot on goal every minute, leaving no chance to get bored. Since there are three periods in hockey, each team plays offense twice at one end, so we carefully picked seats where we would see the Penguins offense twice. We met up with a former neighbor for dinner at Forno’s before the game and then watched the visiting Penguins beat the Blue Jackets 5-2.

7. Meeting DL Stewart at Figlio

During one of our frequent dinners at Figlio, which more often than not we eat at the bar, my wife noticed the couple next to us and asked if I thought that was DL Stewart, our favorite writer at the Dayton Daily News. I said I thought so, and she proceeded to ask him if indeed that was he, which it was. He graciously talked for a few minutes while he and his wife waited for their table, and after their table was ready, he hung around for a few more minutes to talk some more. He is so personable and so funny, talking about how, long ago, he was supposed to cover the Cleveland Browns, his and my favorite team, but instead got stuck covering the Cincinnati Bengals. And he gave my wife some good-hearted grief over being a Pittsburgh Steeler fan.

6. Paying Off The House Mortgage

After two divorces and sitting at fifty-two years old, I didn’t own a home and never thought I would. Then I moved into my wife’s house after we got married and a few years later refinanced both the primary loan and an equity loan into a single, ten year loan at about eighty percent of its appraised value, which would be paid off when I was sixty-six years old. But we began paying extra every year to reduce that to eight years, when I would turn sixty-four. But we got some extra money as a result of the NewPage-Verso-Catalyst Paper transaction, and used some of that to accelerate the early payoff, which was accomplished in February of this year, just six years after we refinanced. A minor miracle.

5. Tenth Wedding Anniversary

It’s really hard to believe that a few days into the New Year we celebrated ten years of married life together. It’s true that time flies when you’re having fun. That wedding weekend is still a blur, from the rehearsal dinner at Benham’s, the ceremony at Incarnation, reception at the Carillon Park Transportation Museum and flying to St.Thomas for our honeymoon. Looking forward to many more years with my wife and soulmate.

4. My Retirement

First it was going to be October of 2018, then I moved it back to March of 2019, but when ND Paper purchased the U.S. operations from Catalyst Paper, I pulled it forward again, and completed my journey of the working world on August 24th after almost 41 years. I started at Wright State University in November of 1977, went to Hobart Corporation in 1980 and started the run of six paper companies with The Mead Corporation in 1981. It’s hard to leave friends and colleagues, and the work was still fun and challenging, but at 62 years old, I could tell I was ready for retirement and starting a new chapter of life. And whether anyone believes it, I was truly surprised and in a bit of shock when they threw me a surprise party at Jimmy’s Ladder 11. Still brings a tear to my eye.

3. Pat and Emma’s Wedding

My wife’s oldest son Pat married his fiance Emma in June at St. Patrick’s Church in Cleveland. From the rehearsal dinner blessed with beautiful evening weather at the Music Box to the bagpiper greeting guests at the wedding to the reception at Tenk West Bank, the entire weekend came together perfectly after many months of planning. Most of my contribution came from using my computer skills and an eye for detail in printing envelopes for the various events along the way. Staying in downtown Cleveland afforded me the opportunity to walk around FirstEnergy Stadium, home to my Cleveland Browns.

2. Universal Studios

The main destination for our Florida vacation in January was Universal Studios, and specifically, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which spans the two theme parks. Our two-day, two-park passes allowed us to travel between Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida (the original park) and Hogsmeade in Universal Studios Island of Adventure, riding on The Hogwarts Express train. The most thrilling ride was the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, dodging He Who Must Not Be Named and his snake Nagini. with the help of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Not far behind, but easier on the stomach, was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, where you soar above Hogwarts. Other highlights included a having a refreshing Butterbeer, watching people disappear through a brick wall to access Platform 9 ¾ and the thrill in kid’s faces as they waved their wands to activate special effects.
1. Cameron Indoor Stadium

When something comes off your Bucket List, it’s no surprise it becomes the highlight of the year. I’ve been a Duke basketball fan since the early 1990’s and have wanted to see a game at Cameron Indoor for many years, so when my friend and local resident Bob invited me down to see Duke play Princeton in December, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Cameron is a unique stadium, seating only 9,300 without a bad seat in the house, and looks from the outside a building that could be a church. This year’s Duke team features the most talented group of freshman in the country, headlined by the high-flying Zion Williamson and super-smooth RJ Barrett, and complemented by floor general Tre Jones and sharpshooter Cam Reddish. After a slow start, Duke blew out Princeton by the lopsided score of 101-50. A dream has come true.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Three Stones

My urologist has told me that the passing of each kidney stone is a unique experience and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had three stones pass so far, as I’ll detail in the following paragraphs. Women have said that it’s the closest that a man will come to experience childbirth, but honestly, if that was the case, we would all have at most one child and the human race would no longer exist. Of course a kidney stone is not as cute and loveable as a baby, so maybe part of my skepticism is based on the lack of a longer-term benefit. Or maybe I’m just a wuss with a low pain tolerance, but in any case, here goes.

The first stone made its appearance back in the late 1980’s while I was working at The Mead Corporation. The morning started with the usual alarm clock, shower, shave and donning of the traditional suit and tie. I walked out the front door of my house, turned to lock it and thought to myself “something just happened”. I stood at the door for a few moments, determined that I couldn’t put a finger on the source of that feeling, locked the door and drove to work. During that twenty minute commute things started going wrong, and by the time I parked at my normal spot on Riverview Avenue, my suit was soaked and I felt terrible. I stood by my car for a few minutes, started feeling better and made the ten minute walk to my office. Within a half-hour I was in more pain than I’ve ever experienced, without a clue to its cause or even a particular body part that was suffering. My colleagues took me to a room to lie down then quickly decided to drive me to Miami Valley Hospital. I spent the next two hours in pain, alternately burning hot and freezing cold, whatever pain medication I was given having no discernible effect. I was relieved when the diagnosis of a kidney stone was made, at least knowing I wasn’t likely to die that day. The doctor decided to give the stone some more time to see if it would pass on its own before deciding on surgery to remove it or shock waves to break it into smaller pieces. An hour or so later I remember the exact moment the stone passed into my bladder. My body temperature shot back to normal and the pain was totally gone. I felt fine and figured I would just go back to work, but they insisted I go home and rest. The final task was to capture the stone as it exited, which took about two days and resulted in a smooth stone no larger than a tomato seed. So much pain caused by such a little object.

Having one stone is not a guarantee of having another, but it’s always in the back of your mind. Is today the day? After about twenty years had passed, I figured, and hoped, I had a “one and done”, however stone number two was not to be denied. This one started with some unusual back pain on a Friday, but eased by Saturday morning, which was appreciated since my wife and I were making the two hour drive to Muncie, Indiana so we could drive a second car back home. By the time we got to Muncie I was not feeling well and passed on eating lunch. Shortly after, the pain hit full force and I knew stone number two was trying to work its way down. My wife drove me home as I laid down across the back seats, feeling each and every bump for two solid hours. We made it home and knowing it was likely just a few hours before the stone reached my bladder and the pain would stop, I tried to tough it out, but it eventually got too much to bear and my wife drove me to Kettering Medical Center. I remember sitting in a chair, bent over and miserable, waiting to be admitted, which seemed to take forever. Like before I was given pain meds, but this time they seemed to help quite a bit and the pain gradually faded away over a couple hour period, no sudden moment of relief. Two weeks later, I passed a nasty-looking, jagged, peppercorn-sized stone, so very different from the first.

The third stone repeated the theme of being a unique experience. My doctor had taken follow-up x-rays after the second stone and saw what could be another stone developing in one of my kidneys. He told me it might elect to stay put and never detach or eventually follow its brothers and make its way down and out. About five years after stone number two I had my answer. In the middle of the night, during one of my normal “wake up, relieve and fall back asleep” cycles, sitting half awake on the throne, I snapped fully awake when the familiar, abrupt, stream stoppage occurred. But in that split-second, my mind was really confused as I wasn’t expecting a stone, not having any pain or other symptoms like the first two events. But sure enough, bloop, a stone popped out, this one not quite the size of number two, but still large enough, and it was quite the relief to know I had skated past hours of pain and a trip to the hospital.

All I can figure, and fervently hope, is that I’m getting better at “birthing” these kidney stones, but since each one is different, who knows what a potential fourth experience may be like. I hope to never know.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Six Paper Companies

My full-time, professional working career began in November of 1977 at Wright State University and continued at Hobart Corporation in 1980. But most of my career, 37 years in total, was spent at paper companies which produced a variety of coated and uncoated papers. Although there were six different names involved, I stayed in the Dayton, Ohio area during all the name changes. But in reflecting on my journey, I realized that every company change had a different, defining emotion, which I’ve bolded in their stories below.

The journey started at The Mead Corporation when I was hired as a mainframe systems programmer. The emotional memory from when I started there in February 1981 was Intimidation. I was in downtown Dayton on the 21st floor of the second tallest building working for a four billion dollar company. I felt like I landed in the big leagues surrounded by incredibly talented individuals and not really knowing if I would fit in or measure up. But the next 21 years were incredible as I moved up into management, ran the network group for awhile and directed the SAP technical group during that project’s initial four-year run. When people ask me where I worked, Mead is the answer, the place I felt most at home.

In August 2001, I walked into a management meeting to find out I was the last of our group to learn that Mead and Westvaco had agreed to a “merger of equals”, a term that has no real meaning since ultimately one company buys the other, and I was Stunned. This was my first real experience in having my apple cart upset and not having a clue what the future held for me. Fortunately it was decided that the IT group would be centered in Dayton and that I would report to the new CIO, the same VP that led the entire SAP project. That fortune only lasted a few years before it was announced that all corporate groups would be relocated to Richmond, Virginia. I am forever grateful to myself for not making that move and staying put in Dayton.

I was without full-time employment for the next ten months, doing a little consulting work, looking for my next job and best of all, planning my wedding. My wife took a big leap of faith, agreeing to marry this guy without a job. We wed in January 2008, and I didn’t get more than 5 hours of sleep the week before, worried about getting a job. When NewPage, the former Papers division of MeadWestvaco, offered me a job following their acquisition of Stora Enso North America, a wave of Relief washed over me. Not only did I get back to the ranks of the fully employed, but I re-joined some of the colleagues I had said goodbye to back in 2005. But after 8 years, my apple cart would be turned over again.

In late 2014, Verso Corporation, a near-bankrupt paper company based in Memphis, Tennessee announced it was buying the financially-stable NewPage Corporation in one of the strangest deals I’ve ever experienced. Now this was the fourth paper company, but the others worked out OK, so I wasn’t overly concerned until the first joint meeting and I got introduced to their highly dysfunctional group of executives, and then the emotion was Anger. I was mad this was happening and I immediately knew my time there was short. The Department of Justice filed suit against both companies and after a year of work limbo, Verso acquired six of NewPage’s paper mills with Catalyst Paper, based outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada acquiring the Rumford, Maine and Biron, Wisconsin mills.

Catalyst Paper needed to stand up a U.S. operation quickly and was able to hire a number of NewPage’s Ohio employees as part of the deal with Verso. I was so Thankful when I was extended an offer and couldn’t say yes fast enough. When I first met the Catalyst management team, I was very impressed. It was 180 degrees opposite of the pompous attitude that Verso demonstrated. Unfortunately, but out of necessity to insure that the I.T. system split would be success, I had to be Verso employee for four months to help launch the separation activities before becoming a Catalyst employee to complete the transition. Given the alternative would have been looking for a new job at the age of 59, it was worth putting up with the pain.

Finally, in 2018, as I was lining up my retirement date, Catalyst Paper sold the U.S. operations they had bought three and a half years prior to ND Paper, a large, China-based, financially-strong paper company, returning control to people who were paper-makers, after thirteen years of being owned by all types of equity and debt organizations. When the announcement was made, I was quite simply Calm. I moved up my retirement date to match when I thought would be the proper time to leave, grateful that the colleagues I was leaving behind would be in a better place.

So that’s the story of my 37-year paper career, staying in the Dayton region as the paper industry seemed to revolve around me. For all the changes, I’ve been fortunate to work for mostly great companies and always awesome colleagues. So the final emotion is Gratitude, that even for all the changes, it all worked out for the best in the end.